I use to say there are two kinds of special education teachers that I work with.
Sadly the first kind looks for my help to lessen their workload.
They come to me and ask, “what should I do with this student?”.
But nothing is ever possible.
They just want to be able to justify not doing everything they are supposed to do.
To be able to say “I tried, but it just wasn’t possible”.
This is because none of the teachers are really special education teachers.
Most of them are high school graduates and they work as special education teachers because they were given two option.
Either they do it or they won’t work at all.
Not the best way to motivate people.
This happened because when we started, even the administrative personal saw special education as the worst job imaginable.
It was something that the government obliged them to do.
It was something that they understood that needed to be done.
But at the same time, culturally, it was the most disgusting thing they could possibly do.
For Kichwa culture, a child that is born visibly disabled is supai wawa, a demon child.
Supai wawa is born when a demon enters a woman and kills the baby inside and takes the baby’s body over.
It is not a real baby, but a kind of zombie, held by an evil spirit that wants to propagate.
And if it is allowed to live it will spread around and infect other women and other women.
So, that finally all babies born will be deformed, disabled, demons.
A very primitive thinking that is luckily disappearing.
But in ways, it still affects people’s actions.
Other form of attaining disability is by sin.
If your parents sinned, if they did something horribly wrong.
Then a disabled baby is born.
A thinking born out of a mix of traditional beliefs and Catholic Church’s teachings.
This way of thinking also explains why some people attain disabilities later on in life.
Be it by disease, accidents, or any other reason, the real reason behind it all is the sin.
Either they sinned, or their parents but someone did it, and so now they have to live with a disability.
When we started our work with the special education among Kichwas it was not very popular.
And the teachers, who were made to work with disabled children, were not very happy about it.
Some of them sought to find ways to change career, or they simply renounced after seeing their students.
Or they stayed long enough to find another job.
Or they did the bare minimum.
But then there is the second kind of teachers.
Who come to me and ask the same question “what should I do with this student?”.
And I find that they have already gone the extra mile and beyond.
That they have gone to the students home, they have gotten the mother to take them to the hospital.
They have gotten them to the disability registry; they have gotten the attention necessary.
They are doing what I told.
But it’s not enough.
They want more.
Because in Kichwa culture, everything is communal.
You take care of your community and its members.
You make sure everything is well and they are well.
And when a special education teacher understands that a disabled person is truly a person.
That they are on a mission, on a mission to make sure everyone understands it.
To make sure, they are made part of the community.
And when the community accepts the person, it does not matter what the parents want, it does not matter what anyone wants or says.
Because the community makes sure that everyone in the community are well and taken care of.
When I came here, I saw an impossible mission in front of me.
And I was sure I would never be able to make it.
Vast amount of people, hidden in the jungle, far away from each other, with a culture that tells them that people with disability aren’t people.
How could I change it?
Well, it was impossible, I could not change it and I won’t change it.
The special education teachers are making the change, one community at time.